Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate Takes Legal Action Against Sherlock Holmes Film

Miramax – the Hollywood studio behind a forthcoming film starring Sir Ian McKellen as an elderly Sherlock Holmes – is facing legal action from the estate of the author responsible for creating the famous literary detective.

Due to the time that has passed since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, many of his Sherlock Holmes stories are now in the public domain.

This is one of the main reasons why, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of big and small screen productions based on the internationally-acclaimed tales.

However, whilst Bill Condon’s upcoming film Mr Holmes is based on a 2005 novel (‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’ by US author Mitch Cullin), Conan Doyle’s heirs have argued that the film also borrows from later stories written by the Scottish novelist which continue to remain under copyright in the US.

As a result, a lawsuit was filed against the film in New Mexico last week.

Although the Conan Doyle estate was unsuccessful with a similar legal case filed in August last year, a 2014 US Supreme Court ruling acknowledged that the final ten Holmes stories, which were published between 1923 and 1927, remain protected by the US 95-year copyright rule.

The latest lawsuit argues that Cullin, whose novel was adapted for the film, borrowed from these copyrighted stories, and the estate has demanded damages and a share of profits from the film as compensation.

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Maung is a partner in our Corporate and Commercial department. He joined Mackrell Turner Garrett following corporate law positions in London and in a leading regional firm in Essex.